CHINATOWN — Has Chicago's appetite for ramen noodles reached its boiling point?
“Ramen culture hails in New York City and Asia but not in Chicago," said Kee Chan, owner of Strings Ramen Shop, a forthcoming restaurant in Chinatown. "I think most of the time here you see businesses offering a lot of things on the menu, like a Thai restaurant adds a sushi menu or Chinese food is added to a sushi restaurant.
“We’ve decided to make a model right here where we only do ramen," he said.
Ramen originated in China but has been adapted over the years as a Japanese dish, with many variations of broths and noodles.
With some notable exceptions — Takashi Yagihashi's mini-noodle empire, plus smaller places like Chinatown's Hing Kee and Logan Square's Wasabi — many of the ramen dishes you’ll find in the city’s Japanese or Pan-Asian restaurants began with frozen, processed noodles, Chan said.
That won’t be the case at Strings, where a high-end machine will kick out endless strands of uniquely flavored noodles.
Chan, a veteran of Chinatown's Lure Izakaya Pub and Mulan, said Strings will serve anywhere from four to eight ramen dishes, each with house-made noodles nestled within flavorful broths made of seaweed, chicken and miso. Chan was especially excited about a ramen dish made with freshly-shaved dried bonito fish flakes.
“We’ll be using special broths and only using best ingredients,” Chan said.
The restaurant will be at 2141 S. Archer Ave., a shuttered branch of Ba Le, the French-Vietnamese sandwich shop.
It will have about 30 seats, and Chan said the restaurant will stay open late, until 2 a.m. If it’s successful, Strings might be a blueprint for a franchise.
One thing Chan seemed intent on is keeping the freshly made dishes within the restaurant — no carry out, no delivery.
"I don’t believe in the idea of delivery," he said. "But we will probably sell raw ramen from the machine so you can go home and cook it yourself with instructions."
Hiring is underway at Strings, but there is no anticipated opening date. Check the Strings Ramen Shop Facebook page for updates.